The German data watchdog has been conducting an investigation into the Worldcoin project led by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman since late last year. The concerns stem from the project’s extensive handling of sensitive biometric data, as stated by the regulator’s president in comments made to Reuters.
Worldcoin, which was recently launched, requires users to provide their iris scans in exchange for a digital ID and, in certain countries, free cryptocurrency, as part of its goal to establish a new “identity and financial network.”
The Bavarian State Office for Data Protection Supervision initiated the investigation in November 2022 due to apprehensions that the project intends to process “sensitive data at a very large scale” using novel technology, according to Michael Will, the president of the state regulator, as reported by Reuters.
Will mentioned that the Bavarian state regulator holds the lead authority in investigating Worldcoin under the European Union’s data protection rules because Tools For Humanity, the company behind Worldcoin, operates a German subsidiary.
The use of these new technologies for processing financial information raises several concerns, including questions about whether users have provided explicit consent for the processing of their highly-sensitive biometric data, based on “sufficient and clear” information, Will explained.
Worldcoin has yet to respond to these comments
Worldcoin has not yet responded to requests for comment. The project’s website claims its network is “privacy-preserving” and asserts that personal data is stored in encrypted form. The Worldcoin Foundation, based in the Cayman Islands, stated via email to Reuters last week that it complies with the European Union’s rules and intends to cooperate with requests from governing bodies regarding information about its privacy and data protection practices.
Since the project’s launch, individuals have been having their faces scanned by a shiny spherical “orb” at sign-up sites worldwide, including in France, Germany, and Spain. Worldcoin reports that around 2.1 million people have signed up, with the majority participating during a trial period over the last two years. Privacy advocates have long expressed concerns about the widespread collection and storage of biometric data, as it may potentially increase surveillance or target specific demographic groups.